Barcelona to make every third street in the Eixample pedestrian-friendly in ten years

The City Council launches a competition to create four main axes and four squares

Barcelona abandons the idea of creating isolated superblocks here and there, in Poblenou or Horta, and starts the transformation of the whole Eixample grid following a scheme of "pacified" or pedestrian-friendly axes for one in every three streets. The idea is to extend the design applied in the district of Sant Antoni, reducing the number on lanes and increasing vegetation, pavements and play areas on certain streets. When these streets meet, they create a kind of square: a space of similar size to the squares in the district of Gràcia (around 2,000 square metres). The project, long awaited by Ada Colau's government, now has a timetable and budget for at least the first eight transformations: four axes and four squares that will be created during this term.

"We have to prepare the city to face great challenges such as reducing traffic and pollution in order to deal with the climate emergency," Colau defended at a press conference, insisting that changes are needed to make the city "fit for the 21st century", and to make them with the "model of success" of the Sant Antoni superblock, an group of blocks of houses where traffic restrictions are in place. The aim is to extend the model to the whole city.

The whole grid, with 21 axes and 21 squares, is expected to be implemented in 2030. It is a project proposed for different mandates and that the municipal government sees as the only possible way to alleviate the deficit of green areas in the city, where there are no spaces to build new parks. "We will transform the streets," emphasises the city's chief architect, Xavier Matilla, and reduce the amount of space covered with tarmac. This plan to renew the Cerdà grid would serve, they calculate, to add 33 kilometres of pedestrain-friendly road, nearly four hectares of space at the new squares and 6.6 new hectares of urban green areas. And it is key, according to Janet Sanz, deputy mayor for urban planning, to improve the city's public space and end the hegemony of the car at a time when many people are considering leaving the city. But she stresses that the change must also include projects such as the tram link or improvements to the Rodalies (suburban train) system.

Before starting the works, an international competition will be opened to design how the streets and squares of the "Cerdà grid of the 21st century" have to be, as Sanz advanced to the ARA, and thus have a design that unifies the new spaces for pedestrians. However, there will be more margin for differences at the crossroads than in the new axes. The project will start on the streets where the plans were tried out temporarily.

The section of Consell de Cent between Parc Joan Miró and Passeig Sant Joan, the section of Girona between Gran Via and Diagonal, the section of Rocafort between Gran Via and Avinguda de Roma and the section of Borrell above Gran Via, where the Sant Antoni design will be extended, will be the first streets to be transformed. The first three will thus leave behind the coloured paint on the ground and the questioned concrete blocks, which will have served as a trial of what is to come.

From here, the first four new squares will also be created. They will be at the intersection of Consell de Cent with Rocafort, with Borrell, with Enric Granados and with Girona. The planned budget for these first eight interventions is 37.8 million euros. The first step will be the announcement of the double public competition of ideas to establish the model of street and square. Work is expected to begin in the first quarter of 2022. The team that wins the competition for the axes will make the design that will be applied to all the streets and the Consell de Cent project, and seven other teams will create the rest of the proposals. "We want to make the Sant Antoni design even better", said Colau.

What is being planned is "a leap in scale" compared with the first proposal for super-islands, according to the municipal government, which defends that there will be no more talk of isolated proposals to weave a whole web of those greens. The fundamental goal of the measure is to reduce the excessive traffic passing through the Eixample, an area crossed every day by some 350,000 cars, more than those that use the Dalt ring road and the Litoral ring road together (170,000 each). It is also the area of Barcelona that concentrates the most serious pollution problem.

With the new grid, following a similar scheme to that of the new bus network, all residents will have one of the new squares about 200 meters from home. The council hopes that the pacification scheme will also be applied in areas such as 22@, in conjunction with the urban planning modification approved to create more housing with private investment, and also in areas with a Cerdà grid that are outside the borders of the Eixample, such as Camp d'en Grassot, in the lower part of Gràcia, and Baix Guinardó. An advisory board with independent professionals from different disciplines will follow the whole process. "The project is realistic and gradual", defended the head of Town Planning in the presentation on Wednesday, in which she stressed that the improvements in the city centre will have an impact on the city as a whole.

Socialist support

The socialists, who are part of the coalition city council, also participated in the press conference to voice their support for the plan. Deputy Mayor Laia Bonet insisted on the need for consensus and a quality design for future interventions, in a clear reference to the controversy aroused by the tactical elements. Bonet, in fact, has warned that some of these provisional reforms will be rethought in the coming days because they have not been fully adjusted.

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